What images and moments will you recall from the COVID-19 pandemic looking back decades from now?
The National Arts Centre’s Jillian Keiley hopes your memories might include one of the 11 events dubbed Grand Acts of Theatre that she and Vancouver’s Sherry Yoon have curated to take place outdoors across the country this September and October.
These are large-scale, but punchy performances intended to awe in-person audiences, but also be captured in short videos that the NAC will share nationally and internationally.
“My goal is that people 20 years from now say, ‘Remember the pandemic? Remember when they pushed that piano off the cliff?’” says Keiley, who is artistic director of the NAC’s English Theatre.
For these Grand Acts of Theatre, the NAC has commissioned some of Canada’s most innovative independent companies in theatre, dance and performance to create what Keiley calls “public-impact, meaning-making moments.”
All 11 artistic works must take place outside and in front of real live audiences in their own communities (following local health and safety guidelines) – and be in a form that allows their essence to be captured in videos of no longer than five minutes.
Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver, Curtain Razors in Regina, Kaha:wi Dance Theatre of Six Nations of the Grand River, and L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres in Quebec City are among the troupes that have received $50,000 from the NAC to tackle the challenge.
No artist is actually going to push a piano off a cliff – that’s just Keiley’s example of the type of short and attention-grabbing happening she hoped to provoke.
The actual Grand Acts of Theatre are in various stages of planning and development. From descriptions available to date, some seem to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic more directly, while others seem to be grappling with the tumultuous politics of our time.
The Black Theatre Workshop in Montreal’s project, for instance, will engage with the anti-Black racism movement and policing – in a theatrical form made popular by Hamilton. Black and Blue Matters – Track 1 will be an “installation performance” of an excerpt from an upcoming satirical, interactive hip-hop musical written by Omari Newton.
Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s Continuance: Yonkwa’nikonhrakontáhkwen, meanwhile, will involve dancers choreographed by its acclaimed artistic director Santee Smith interacting with 3-D projections cast on the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont.
Talk Is Free Theatre, in Barrie, Ont., is teaming up with the immersive theatre company Outside the March and its artistic director Mitchell Cushman to create something that seems more whimsically of the moment entitled Something Bubbled, Something Blue – involving a pair of brides getting married in Zorbs (rideable, people-sized plastic bubbles).
Meanwhile in St. John’s, Neighbourhood Dance Works is planning a parade in gowns that light up from the inside for The Fire Kedgy’s Howl, described as “a mythological intervention depicting the arrival of a luminescent, otherworldly community.”
Keiley, in consultation with her colleagues at the Dance and French and Indigenous Theatre departments, and Yoon, who runs the boundary-pushing performance company Boca del Lupo, have also commissioned Grand Acts of Theatre from Catalyst Theatre (Edmonton), the Prismatic Arts Festival (Halifax), Théâtre Cercle Molière and Synonym Art Consultation (Winnipeg) and the Canadian Academy of Mask and Puppetry (Calgary). Companies were chosen from a longlist of 60.
Exact dates for the Grand Acts of Theatre are still in flux. Information will be posted on the NAC’s website as it becomes available.
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